When planning a Borneo holiday, most clients will invariably end up asking the question: ‘Do I need vaccinations for Borneo??’ Thrill-seekers, animal fanatics and sun worshippers alike will have countless reasons to love Borneo. But with so much to get stuck in with, it’s really important to prepare yourself properly. Mangroves, mountains, jungle canopies, coral reefs and rainforests tend to pose various personal health questions, so allow us to give you a run-down of our general advice for vaccinations and medical advice when travelling to Borneo.
Disclaimer: We are travel enthusiasts and not Doctors. The following is advice is a mixture of our personal experience, advice and information from the NHS. Always contact your GP at least 2 months before travelling for the best advice.
Borneo is a large rainforest and when it comes to the weather, the key is in the name – rain. No matter what time of year you visit, it is likely that you will encounter rain. We don’t actually think that is such a bad thing, as the landscapes are always very green and lush, and Borneo’s wildlife is often very active during times of rain. However, Borneo’s rain is not like Britain’s rain – it will still be warm and the downpour may well be quite hard for an hour or so, before blowing over and leaving the rest of the day blessed with sunshine and clear skies. So it’s important to make sure that you are prepared! Take good shoes with wicking or proper water-resistance, and make sure you take thick socks. The better the quality the better, as they will keep your feet dry. Bring some foot talc or spray for long days with your feet in your hiking boots to avoid foot infections/athletes foot, etc.
One health concern in Borneo – and not particularly pleasant – is leeches. They do (unfortunately) exist but, as long as you are prepared, they won’t be a problem at all. You don’t find leeches in hot, dry places; try to avoid standing in cold puddles! But seriously, be careful where you are treading and what you are wearing in particularly damp conditions. You can buy leech socks that cover your shoes and go all the way up to your knees, where you tie them in place to stop leeches getting into your shins. If you do have a leech on your body that has already started sucking blood, then don’t try to remove it – you will need to wait until it drops off naturally otherwise if you force it off it will cause more bleeding. Alternatively, you can apply a little salt to a leech and it will drop off instantly.
^ taken at the Gomantong Caves
For vaccinations, we advise you to protect yourself against Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid as a minimum. Other vaccinations you could consider are Hepatitis B and rabies, (carried by bats which you do sometimes encounter in Borneo). Some of these vaccinations require a course of injections over a few months, so make sure to contact your GP well in advance of your trip.
Inland Sabah and Sarawak both pose a risk of Malaria. There are plenty of anti-malarial medicines that you can take, but make sure to discuss all options in full with your doctor. Some anti-malarial medicine has side-effects such as weird dreams (seriously!), and there are lots of different options designed to suit different people with various medical backgrounds. Try to cover up in the evenings, perhaps take a cardigan or jacket that you can close properly around your body, and it is best to cover your legs at night, too. There is also a small chance that you may encounter Dengue mosquitos when in Borneo. Dengue mosquitos only bite in the daytime hours, so try and keep your eye out for them. They like large, stagnant bodies of water and are quite distinctive – black with white stripes and often larger than regular mosquitos.
Do go prepared with bite relief. Afterbite is a good anti-inflammatory and anti-itch formula that can be purchased in the UK. Please note this relief can be a bit stingy – but stingy can be good in some situations. In Borneo, you can purchase Tiger Balm which is a good natural bite relief balm and favoured by those who want to be careful what chemicals they put on their bodies. Finally, a good chunk of ice in a towel is an ingenious way to numb big itches and let a sufferer get a good night’s sleep.
A few other small points – if you are trekking up Mount Kinabalu then read up a bit on Altitude Sickness – drink water, take it easy when setting your walking pace and, if in doubt, head back down to a lower attitude as soon as possible and you will feel instantly better! And, whilst we mentioned before that the rainforest is full of rain, don’t forget your sun cream! You can still get sunburnt through a cloudy sky (seriously), so take a good SPF factor and protect yourself every day. Take simple painkillers like Aspirin (good for altitude sickness), Paracetamol and Ibruprofen. Strepsils are very hard to find outside of Europe so take some with you in case you have a sore throat after the flight, and take rehydration sachets such as Dioralyte in case you have an upset stomach.
OK, this may seem quite scary, but don’t worry! Borneo is a perfectly safe place to travel to, and if you can embrace the adventure factor and prepare properly, you will be rewarded so richly by the beauty and incredible wildlife on offer. Talk to your GP, check your vaccination records to ensure you are up to date, and make sure you tailor your medical preparations to your particular needs – after all we are all different!
Borneo travellers, please do share your own medical advice and personal experiences in the comments section. The more information we can give to other Borneo enthusiasts, the more we can promote this fascinating and beautiful country.
Final Disclaimer: the above is simply advice from a travel enthusiast. Always consult your Doctor 2 months before travel to discuss medical needs.